Sex trafficking: Good guys get to work on shelters and solutions

I feel like ordering a collection of capes and passing them out to all the people I’m meeting who are doing something to fight the sex trafficking of minors.

Because what you can’t say today about our nation’s problem with human trafficking is this: How come no one is doing anything about it?

You used to be able to say that — and for legitimate reasons. People with all the superhero qualities in the world had no idea sex trafficking was a pervasive problem in Portland. We thought it was a problem in far-off places where our reach was limited — or that sex slaves were trickling in from other countries. But in 2006, a report commissioned by the U.S. Department of Justice and written by Shared Hope International of Vancouver, surprised a lot of people, revealing that people who are traded for sex within our borders are most often U.S.-born.

Villains are usually ahead of the game. And criminals have figured out there is an ample supply of young girls and boys to victimize in our country — children from broken homes, in foster care, in poverty and young girls who simply believe the promises of a pimp posing as a loving, caring boyfriend.

The bad guys have gotten away with this long enough that tens of thousands of American children are involved in the commercial sex industry.

While the government lacks comprehensive research to determine the number of victims, the Justice Department says the average age of entry into prostitution is now 13. It estimates that nearly 300,000 American youth are currently at risk of becoming victims of commercial sexual exploitation. And Portland is a human-trafficking hotspot.

That’s the bad news.

Back to the superheroes: When people learn children are lured into commercial sex by pimps posing as boyfriends and prostituted at truck stops just down the road, they want to help.

Nola Brantley, a survivor of sexual slavery who runs a program for sexually exploited youth in California, spoke Wednesday at an awareness event put on by the Not for Sale campaign on the Portland State University campus. In her talk, Brantley applauded Oregonians’ passionate response to sex trafficking.

She’s right. There’s a lot happening here. In addition to Oregonians Against Trafficking Humans, the Oregon Human Trafficking Task Force and Shared Hope International, legislators in Oregon and Washington passed laws this session to increase awareness of sex trafficking and publicize a national hot line that people can call if they need help or suspect wrongdoing.

The Washington Legislature is heading where Oregon needs to go with a bill to establish tougher penalties for buyers and traffickers and raising money for crisis shelters and intervention programs. The bill also would require authorities to consider noncriminal alternatives for some children arrested for prostitution.

Both states need to end the practice of arresting minors for prostitution and treat juveniles involved in sex trafficking as victims rather than criminals. But to do that, we need places for victims to recover, safe from predators.

Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., is trying to help on that front, pushing federal legislation that would authorize block grants to create comprehensive programs to help sex-trafficking victims in six different U.S. locations.

Proving you don’t have to wait for the world to change, you can be a part of the change, Lexie Woodward organized Wednesday’s Not for Sale event. An estimated 180 people attended. “I’m really excited about the turnout,” the PSU student said, noting that it wasn’t an all-student crowd. “This will help get the word out that slavery never ended, it just evolved.”

Another student raising awareness is Lara Lucero. The Clark County high-schooler is organizing a fundraiser in May called the “Stuck in Traffic Run.”

A Clark County man who works in Portland is planning a motorcycle rally this summer that will go from truck stop to truck stop, with riders handing out information about sex trafficking along the Interstate 5 corridor. As a father of three daughters and girls’ volleyball coach, he wants a wave of men to stand up and say, “We’re not going to tolerate this,” he said. “Men created the demand, and I really believe men have to help stop it.”

Luke Armstrong, representing the Institute of Trafficked, Exploited and Missing Persons, an international nonprofit, also spoke Wednesday at PSU. He reminded people of small but meaningful ways to prevent modern-day slavery.

You don’t have to go head-to-head with a pimp or rescue minors from hotel rooms. You can donate, become a mentor to at-risk youth, find ways to help meet the needs of families in poverty and combat the conditions that make children vulnerable to sexual exploitation in the first place.

Everyone can play a part. It’s a good thing capes come one-size-fits-all.

For educational purposes only


6 Ways to Take Action Against Domestic Minor Sex Trafficking

1. Be an expert on the topic! You can’t fight unless you know your enemy and the tactics he uses! Read Linda Smith’s book, From Congress to the Brothel and get inspired. On the pages of this book you will meet several trafficking victims, hear their heartbreaking accounts, and witness the healing power of God in the lives of these precious girls. Order a complimentary copy of “From Congress to the Brothel.” To learn even more watch videos produced by Shared Hope International and read our research on child sex slavery in the USA.

2. Identify Trafficking and Spread the Word. The more people who know how to identify sex trafficking in the United States, the stronger we will be in our fight. Join the nationwide movement and host an Innocence Lost Vigil in your community as part of the End Demand: Kids are NOT for Sale Awareness Campaign. You can also learn more about sex trafficking in your community by getting a copy of the video “Domestic Minor Sex Trafficking – Prostituted Children in the United States” and educate your community.

3. Allow your money to follow your heart! You abhor the fact that children are being raped and tortured – help us help them! We cannot protect or rescue our children without financial support for the services they need. When you give a Gift of Hope with our online giving catalogue, you can also give in a friend or loved one’s name – for a birthday or any other occasion. Additionally, they will even receive a hand written card in the mail with a personal message from you. Give a Gift of Hope today and save lives!

4.Take the Pledge – Become a Defender. Join forces with the men who are stepping up to protect their families and communities against the ravages of the commercial sex industry by taking a stand against it. Take the Defenders USA pledge today!

5. Sign a petition and inform your legislators. Shared Hope International is demanding justice… for the innocent girls who are trafficked in America and have no safe place to run… and for stronger penalties for the men who buy children. Sign our petition for justice and add your voice to the fight against trafficking – When we join together we are powerful!

6. Most importantly, pray. Keep the victims of child sex trafficking, their families and all those individuals working to end this horrible abuse in your prayers. Offer up a weekly prayer petition for an end to child sex trafficking in the United States. You can sign up for our newsletter and get a regular reminder of those who need your prayers most.


Published in: on October 25, 2009 at 12:16 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Family Advocate to Testify Before Congress on Human Trafficking


The House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on International Organizations, Human Rights and Oversight will hold a hearing Wednesday on violence against women.

One of the topics will be sex trafficking.

Linda Smith, founder of Shared Hope International, will testify.

Shared Hope International works to prevent sex trafficking, rescue those already caught in sex slavery and restore victims of trauma through skills training and economic freedom.

Samantha Vardaman, senior director at Shared Hope International, said America is one of the leaders in dealing with the problem.

“The issue of physical and psychological trauma that’s inflicted on the victims of sex trafficking is enormous,” she said, “and can’t be underestimated as a form of violence against women.”

Panelists scheduled to appear at the hearing include actress Nicole Kidman, U.S. Rep. Jan Schakowsky, D-Ill., and Breakthrough Founder and Executive Director Mallika Dutt.

link to human trafficking and how you can get involved in the fight.

Published in: on October 21, 2009 at 8:56 am  Comments (1)  
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Tulsa becomes crossroads for child sex trafficking

v95i8-callrespAmerica is now the number one destination in the world for child sex trafficking, according to the State Department Bureau of Justice Statistics.

Sex trafficking of modern-day slaves is at an all-time high and larger U.S. cities are major markets for this illegal sex trade industry.

On Oct. 21 and 22, specialists from around the nation will convene in Tulsa to hold Oklahoma’s first Human Trafficking Awareness and Training Conference.

Law enforcement experts from the Federal Bureau of Investigations, Immigration and Customs Enforcement, Federal Marshals from Texas and the Department of Justice Prosecutors from Washington D.C. will be on hand conducting workshops and panel discussions.

Additionally, experienced psychiatrists, social workers and case workers will address treatment and care for victims of sex trafficking.

Recent findings from Law enforcement agencies, non-profit anti-trafficking organizations and Shared Hope International indicate that Houston is now the number one city for child sex trafficking, with Las Vegas and Atlanta ranking second and third.

According to FBI experts, traffickers are known to move their victims from state to state to avoid being detected.

“Our highway systems have become the new slave trade routes of these modern-day sex slaves,” said Mark Elam, of Oklahomans Against Trafficking Humans.

With Interstates 40 and 44 connecting the east and west coasts and I-35 connecting Mexico and Houston to northern cities, Oklahoma is right in the crossroads of this growing problem.

The conference, to be held at the Oral Roberts University Zoppelt Auditorium, will consist of a screening of “Call + Response,” a documentary created to expose the terrifying fact that there are more slaves today than ever before in human history.

The event will feature speakers like Theresa Flore, a victim who was sex trafficked while in high school, and sessions covering types of human trafficking in Oklahoma with FBI special agents discussing local problem areas.

Students seeking careers in social work and psychology can earn six hours of continuing education credits. The general public is also invited to attend so they can become aware of how traffickers are targeting American kids and grooming children online to become the next wave of victims.

Those interested should go to to register.


Shared Hope: Repairing the damage of nation’s sex trafficking

Linda Smith
For more than a decade, Linda Smith’s Shared Hope International organization has rescued thousands of women and children around the world from the sordid world of prostitution. But the discovery of the extent of the sexual exploitation of teen and preteen girls in the United States almost made her walk away.

“I was shocked and then thought, ‘Oh my gosh, I can’t do this. They look too much like my granddaughters,’ ” Smith said Tuesday. “It’s too hard, but yet, it’s helped me see how others might see it. I was having a hard time believing it, and I was seeing it.”

In 2006, Shared Hope International received a grant from the U.S. Department of Justice to research the sex trafficking of American children. Investigation was made in 10 targeted locations — Dallas; San Antonio, Texas; Fort Worth, Texas; Salt Lake City; Buffalo, N.Y.; New Orleans, Independence, Mo.; Las Vegas, Clearwater, Fla.; and the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, a U.S. territory.

A private grant allowed further investigation in Atlanta and Washington, D.C. Smith presented the results, “The National Report on Domestic Minor Sex Trafficking: America’s Prostituted Children,” to Congress in July. She also wrote a book, “Renting Lacy,” which was published last month.

Shared Hope’s investigation revealed there are at least 100,000 American children being sexually exploited by pimps and traffickers and the “johns” who pay for them. The average “recruitment” age for the girls is 12 to 13 years of age.

“By the time we got done, between undercover footage and interviews, we pretty well had the nation,” Smith said. “What we found is I can go to craigslist or a strip club or an adult shop anywhere and find a minor for sex. There’s no town, I don’t care where; if there’s buyers, there’s sellers. Pornography is driving the sex train for younger and younger girls.”

Shared Hope’s national report found that too often, the trafficked children were treated more like criminals than victims.

Pimps and traffickers, while grooming their girls for sexual acts, teach them to lie about their identity, their age and information about who they work for if the police pick them up for prostitution, Smith said.

“These girls have so little trust because nearly every adult in their lives has been untrustworthy, and her pimp tells her that if she gets picked up by law enforcement then she will go to jail. And that is often what happens” Smith says in the report. “So, as far as this child sees it, the only adult who has told her the truth is the pimp.”

But those arrests and rap sheets also are making it easier for organizations like Shared Hope to identify the children to possibly get them away from their traffickers, Smith said.

“That’s how we figure out where they are,” she said. “In Las Vegas, we were able to pull up records and find out where the kids came from. There were three from Vancouver and at least one from Longview they had brought down there. And most likely these girls had been moved all around the country at one time or another.”

Smith said traffickers look for girls they identify as being vulnerable, either luring them with flattery, buying them presents or outright kidnapping them. About half are in the foster care system and have fallen through the cracks, Smith said.

“If no one is looking for them, they’re going to stay in the system,” she said. “One girl finally was able to get to a phone, then she realized she had no one to call.”

While federal law says a minor can’t be charged with prostitution, state laws aren’t quite so clear, Smith said.

“We didn’t know it was here until about five or six years ago. Now that I’ve done the research, we’re taking a look at key states, looking at everything we can to make it work,” she said. “Once communities know, they’ll take action. They’re taking it serious and looking at the law. We found the most common thing was we go ahead when we realize what is in front of us.”

Smith to speak at CAP dinner

Linda Smith, former Republican congresswoman and founder of Shared hope International, will be the guest speaker for the “One Person Can Make A Difference” dinner and celebration, sponsored by Lower Columbia CAP. Smith will speak about her new book, “Renting Lacy” and the national report she presented to Congress on sexual exploitation of children in the United States.

The event will be held at 6 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 24, at the Red Lion Hotel in Kelso. Cost is $50 per person, which includes dinner. Tickets are available online at or at the CAP office, 1526 Commerce Ave., Longview. All proceeds go to the CAP Foundation.

Learn more

To learn more about Shared Hope International’s work as well as the report on the sex trafficking of children in the United States, go to


Published in: on September 20, 2009 at 8:17 am  Leave a Comment  
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